Just a week or so ago, a new political action committee was formed called Committee to Protect Russell Township Parks. The treasurer is Cleveland Heights attorney Mark O’Brien, who, according to county records, owns no land in Geauga.
When contacted by aTimes reporter, Mr. O’Brien would not comment, would not refer the Times to a spokesperson and would not or could not even state the purpose of the group.
Who is funding the PAC? A good question that could be answered next week after the Geauga County Board of Elections reviews required financial statements due today.
One thing we do know, a postcard recently mailed to residents by the PAC calls for a “no” vote on Issue 23 – a Nov. 7 ballot issue asking Russell Township residents to approve the creation of a new park district under Ohio Revised Code Section 511.
Clearly, the name of the PAC was created to confuse voters. It’s strangely similar to a county grassroots group called Protect Geauga Parks, whose members have publicly stated that the new PAC has nothing to do with them.
In fact, the PAC’s mission appears to be the opposite of the grassroots group, which has spoken up against the seemingly autocratic management style of the Geauga County Park District.
It doesn’t take an overly savvy person to see that this PAC is about Issue 23 and Russell Township. Perhaps it’s a legal way to pay for those postcards showing up in mailboxes.
Parks and whether they should be dedicated to preserving green space or a place for sporting activities has been a hotly debated issue across Geauga County.
Issue 23 in Russell Township is about control.
Russell already has a park district called the Russell Township Park District, created in 1984 under ORC Section 1545, which calls for the county probate judge to appoint three board members.
For decades Russell residents supported levies allowing the township park board to acquire parkland.
That changed when Timothy Grendell became the Geauga probate judge in 2011.
Longtime Russell park board members’ terms were not renewed by Judge Grendell, and new appointees began talking about sports and recreation on parkland. This didn’t sit well with some residents.
The tipping point came when newly appointed Russell park board members questioned the proposed purchase of 52 acres of Modroo farmland for about $1.55 million to be turned into parkland. Previous park board members had been working on the deal for years.
Ultimately the purchase went through, but along the way Russell park commissioners at that time eliminated the public comment portion of meetings. With new board members, that has changed. But residents who pay taxes to support the district should always be confident that they have a voice regardless of who is sitting in the board seats.
On the surface, a second park board doesn’t really make sense, but it appears to be the only way right now for Russell residents to take control of their parks. Under Section 511, township trustees appoint park board members instead of the judge.
This will not be a one-step process. Dissolving the existing Russell Township Park District takes the approval of the probate judge, and that’s not likely to happen under Judge Grendell. And then there’s the issue down the road of funding the new district.
But for now, if Russell residents are unhappy with the existing park board, the reasonable choice is to vote yes on Issue 23.